This loaded mac and cheese sounded yummy on the menu and tasted pretty good. But can you say “Hamburger Helper”?
Before you try this at home, make sure you have a salty smoky cheese. And, as much as we all love those green jalapeno ringlets, the more vibrant the color, the more vibrant the dish. If you can use a red pepper, always go red. Even my 5 year old niece knows that!
Had to head down to Santa Barbara and was trying to make the drive back north in the same day but that would have been 13 hours on the road so I decided to stay the night in San Luis Obispo (Central Coast). I usually love the steaks at Madonna Inn’s restaurant but the rooms are too loud. So, I was delighted to find the Granada Hotel & Bistro quoted me about the same price for a recently remodeled lavishly decorated room right in downtown SLO.
While the accommodations were a score and I saved a bit of cash, I spent about a hundred bucks on myself in their bistro downstairs because the wine and food was so delicious. Their Cumin and Coriander Rubbed Coulotte Steak had a celery root puree, chili roasted cauliflower and chimichurri nora pepper puree that was not shy on the spice. While the combination of flavors was outstanding, I was wishing I’d ordered a Riesling or jammy zin to handle the spice in this dish. I know I should have known by the description that it was spicy. But so many chefs are simply shy on the spices to appeal to a wide audience. Kudos to the chef at Granada for embracing authentic spice and local flavors!
The Folkway Bien Nacido Vineyard from Santa Maria on the menu was a soft loving Merlot. I’m still thinking about its deliciously elegant portfolio of flavors with a real juicy dark cherry that is the hallmark of a good Merlot. But pair this with lighter fare than I did.
Finally, don’t get suckered into paying an extra $5 hotel fee for them to staff their front desk. We all have to suck up fees that it takes to run our businesses!
What’s that saying about doing what you love and the rest will follow? I don’t know if they mean success or wealth will follow. But, that headstrong, renegade, roll up your sleeves, no bullshit attitude is what drives Woodenhead. The namesake is a nickname for the winemaker who may be the Steve Jobs of the wine biz for relentlessly crafting wines he loves and his ability to raise the bar for richly vibrant and wonderfully natural wines. He’s coined “Burgundian done California-style” to describe their unique profile based on the best of both old and new worlds.
His wines are also uniquely aged. Longer time in barrel and bottle gives them more complexity and personality. They are not only uniquely named but also have different colored labels so that return customers have an easier time picking out the ones they remember. Never leave the tasting room without getting a wet kiss.
His Pinot Noirs are from all over the state and each beautifully represents those regions. They all have amazing typicity yet many different layers of earth, spice, and body based on their climate and soil. Their old vine Zinfandels are equally delicious with lightness in the body, layers of earth, tangy fruit, and longevity. Some wines may be high in alcohol but you wouldn’t taste it. All are unfined and unfiltered, which I realize is a term only wine geeks recognize but it really is the definition of a “natural wine” with few or no additives and will make vegetarians and vegans say “yeow, crack another one open!”
They will tell you it’s impossible to introduce an old town to a new cuisine. They will tell you to always praise the lard. They may even say Yucatan doesn’t fit in wine country. But they may drink those words.
Mateo’s opened a few years ago while locals doubted he could gain such a following here in Healdsburg. But Mateo stayed true his native Yucatan cuisine, replacing lard with olive oil in his Olive oil guacamole. His tender juicy suckling pig tamales take that pronounced flavor another step toward ay caramba.
But the reason to drop by and stay a spell is the amazing collection of fine tequila and mescal. If you haven’t yet tried the delicious smoky goodness of mescal, you will wonder what took you so long.
Some of the most straightforward wines are coming out of a pretty new producer on Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg. West Wines stands out in a corridor of Syrah and Zinfandel producers with their elegant European styled Bordeaux varietals.
A stainless steel Sauvignon Blanc begins their flight with straightforward crisp citrus flavors yet mellow grapefruit characteristics that can overwhelm this varietal. But their Cabernet Sauvignon is what stole the show. It is fermented 2 years in French oak barrels and bottle aged for another 3 years. The first thing you notice is its elegant plum characteristics blended with that soft supple eucalyptus fragrance. It finishes long after you’ve left the building with lots of pepper and a wonderful balance of fruit and body.
They are coming out with a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, which should be really interesting. Keep your eyes on this female winemaker doing things a little differently with a flair for European heritage.
Step around the corner from that overpriced shoe store or sweets shop in the Healdsburg Plaza and experience some well-rounded and beautifully crafted Burgundy style wines. Mueller Winery produces a handful of Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs as well as a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc and old vine Zinfandel. Their Sauvignon Blanc starts the tasting with a rich banana texture and slight crispness without the harsh grapefruit that is a hallmark of this grape. Their Chardonnay has much more body than tangy fruit flavors but a solid balance.
The Pinot Noirs that follow each have unique styles yet remain balanced an elegant, true to European style. The first has deep cherry with a long finish of earth and a hint of ash while the Eastside had a nose of spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon with softer cherry and a bit of pepper on the finish. Finally, the old vine Zinfandel had a truly unique personality. Either because it was planted in 1915 or because it was grown by a Pinot Noir producer, it has that earthy quality that is quintessential of Pinot but the delicious tart berry and plum that Zinfandel brings. It had great body with tight acidity. Definitely worth a trip to those who love Burgundy.
You may be inspired to walk into the Stark Wine tasting room just to get a better look at the space. It looks like a designer studio with a beautifully decorated sidewalk patio. Some walk in thinking it is an art store in hopes that they can purchase the antique winemaking artifacts. But they are just part of the decor, although each tells a story and is locally hand crafted.
But stay a while for the wines. Their Chardonnay has amazing tangy green apple fruit flavor with a shimmer if white pepper and a long lingering finish. We will be back to try their Grenache Blanc from the Saarloos Vineyard in Santa Ynez. Their Primitivo gets its big tart cherry flavor from the Sierra Foothills with a leather mouth-feel and a hint of smoke on the finish.
Make sure you stop by on a Thursday night when they have live music and serve wines by the glass. Here’s what you can feast on until then: